Bend It Like Bento
In France, a two-hour lunch is more the norm than the exception—not the image that Chez Colette at Hotel Sofitel in Bloomington wants to project to the time-starved inhabitants of surrounding office buildings. So Chez Colette looked to the East for inspiration, specifically Japan, where work-obsessed salarymen seek both quality and speed in their midday meals. It found and adapted the bento box: small portions of tasty items served in a handsome, compartmentalized lacquer box.
Good to Know: Chez Colette now serves a “30-Minute Lunch,” guaranteed to be served within 10 to 15 minutes of ordering. It’s a seasonally changing lineup of four courses—appetizer, soup or salad, entrÃ©e, and dessert—that diners select, with the exception of the dessert du jour chosen by the pastry chef, all served simultaneously.
Menu Picks: There are a few misses among the hits. Spicy crab cakes with mango chutney are only so-so. But the butter-lettuce salad is dressed with superb mustard vinaigrette, and excellent smoked salmon comes with requisite toast points, red onions, capers, and a delicious herbal cream cheese. Portions are ample and the lunches are a tremendous value—good reason to return to the Sofitel if it’s been a while.
A simple, but pleasant arrangement of mache, sliced beets, bits of succulent duck confit, and an apple dressing is the salad course. The beef medallion can be a little tough, but there’s nothing to fault about the wonderful bordelaise reduction or unconventional but very good curry potato cake.
The real thing: Most Japanese restaurants around the Twin Cities have bento boxes on the menu, but the “Shogun” at Sakura in downtown St. Paul is a standout, a surf-and-turf option whose crispy shrimp tempura and tender beef teriyaki are exemplary in their preparation.